The popular “nickname” of the historic pre-Reformation Church known originally as the Unity of the Brethren (Unitas Fratrum). The name Moravian was first applied in the 1730’s by English Christians, much like the name “Methodists”; it became the permanent name of the denomination in the English speaking world.
A biblical practice (Num. 33:54; Acts 1:26) common among Pietists, and apparently used in the 15th Century by Hussites, the lot became one of the “marked features of the inner life of Herrnhut and the whole Moravian Church.” The Brethren chose elders, affirmed the appointment of missionaries and even decided marriage partners by use of the lot. Zinzendorf often sought to determine God’s will by the lot. At times, rolled pieces of paper were used, with either a Ja or Nein printed on them; at other times directive Scripture verses were written on scraps of paper.
The Order of the Grain of Mustard Seed
Teen-aged Zinzendorf and several companions at Halle formed a club, pledging loyalty to Christ, promising not to slander, to honor any promise and to live clean lives. At first they called themselves “The Slaves of Virtue” but eventually, “The Honorable Order of the Grain of Mustard Seed.” This was a serious venture; eventually among those wearing the ring (engraved with the text—“None of us liveth unto himself”), were Frederick de Watteville, Archbishop Potter, Governor Oglethorpe and Cardinal Noailles.
A simple meal for fellowship—often merely of fresh baked bread and coffee—was first observed on the Renewed Moravian Church’s “birthday” Aug. 13, 1727. Zinzendorf so enjoyed seeing Brethren remain after church services to renew broken friendships that he ordered food sent from his manor home to six or seven homes at Herrnhut so the “love feast” could continue. The “agape” meal was frequently observed, on special days of prayer or upon the farewell of missionary appointees.
Theology for Missions
Count Zinzendorf took very seriously the abiding presence of Christ in the world through the Holy Spirit. This enabled him and the eighteenth century Moravians, nicknamed ‘the Savior’s happy people,’ to enjoy a radical simplicity and freedom and to accomplish wondrous things.
Christ is pre-eminent and central as he continues to meet persons where they are, at all times. Christ meets them through the work of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the only true missionary. Humans are at most agents of the Spirit. They follow the Savior in bringing the gospel to those whom the Savior through the Spirit has already prepared to hear it. One preaches not out of fear for the fate of the unconverted but because one wishes to follow after Christ.
Based on his reading of scripture (for example, Acts 10:1–48 and Acts 8:26–39) Zinzendorf argued that the Holy Spirit awakens religious longings within a person and then sends the missionary to that person. The witness of the missionary fulfills the seeker’s search for religious truth.
Those persons who responded to the presence of the missionary were termed the “first fruits” (Rev. 14:4) or by some other appropriate term drawn from scripture.
When it came to preaching to these people, the first missionaries were urged to take the traditional methods and turn them upside down. The Count wrote that the missionaries were not to let themselves “be blinded by reason as if people had to, in order, first learn to believe in God, after that in Jesus. It is wrong because that God exists is obvious to them. They must be instructed of the Son; there is salvation in no other.” Talk about Jesus and this will lead naturally to a discussion of God and to the whole unfolding narrative of the history of salvation. The annals of the missions are marked with reports of persons who were moved by this message in a way that no other religious talk had affected them.
In 1727 the congregation at Herrnhut organized itself in small Bunden or “bands” of people who were drawn by a spiritual affinity to one another. Later a formal system of “choirs” was organized, “based upon age, sex, and marital status.” The choir filled the need for intimate sharing, confession, prayer and discipline and would meet almost daily. Through the leaders of the choirs Zinzendorf was kept informed of each individual’s spiritual growth
A “democracy in death” characterizes these burying grounds in the numerous Moravian settlements. A simple, flat stone marks the site of each one’s grave, whether bishop, infant or Indian; each burying ground was divided into sections corresponding to the choir system the Single Brethren, Single Sisters, etc.
The name for each group of settlers immigrating from Europe to the New World in the 1740’s. The largest Sea Congregation (150) sailed from Holland to Pennsylvania in 1749 aboard the Moravian vessel Irene.
The name, inspired by Peter’s salutation in his First Epistle, of societies of devoted believers within the established churches scattered or “dispersed” throughout the world. Far from intending to further the expansion of one denomination, Zinzendorfs goal was to strengthen “heart religion” in all the body of Christ.
“Blood and Wounds” Theology
From 1734 on, the Brethren sought to make much of the sufferings of Christ. “This approach ushered in the most creative period of the Moravian movement” but later fell victim to an unhappy perversion. Zinzendorf stressed the preaching of Christ’s blood and sacrifice after being impressed by a “watchword”—“O let us in thy nailprints see, our pardon and election free.”
Watchword (Daily Text)
Early at Herrnhut, Zinzendorf began selecting a Scripture verse which, announced at the close of day, served as the “watchword” for the whole community the following day. Often he composed a hymn to accompany the text; from this evolved the Daily Text, a devotional guide with Scriptures and hymn verses for each day of the year, continually published since 1731.
Copyright © 1982 by the author or Christianity Today/Christian History magazine.
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